For straight and gay people alike, many would describe the legalization of gay marriage this past summer as a triumph. Instagram feeds filled with rainbow flags and long impassioned captions describing what this judicial decision meant for the country as a whole. Sadly, with the rainbow-colored sweet comes the rainbow-colored sour. Once this landmark decision had been reached, I noticed LGBT allies looking around the room with a self-assured smile, patting each other on the back. “Well, we did it!” they all thought. “The fight is over! Time to pack it up, good job everyone.”
Other cis-queer people did it too, for them this was the big bad that needed to be conquered and now we had won, so what other issues are there? This is where the sour comes in: once marriage equality became the law of the land a giant smokescreen appeared in front of the other issues queer people face. “The marriage equality movement, that great red herring of equality”, as stated by Aaron Talley, a culture writer for Mused Magazine.
This past year was the most dangerous on record for black trans women and gender nonconforming people. The numbers of murdered trans folks added up to about 25 people around the country. This gets even more disheartening when you take into account the cases that were either not investigated or the victims that were misgendered by their families and local authorities. This information doesn’t make national news, and doesn’t commonly elicit outcries from the same groups marching for marriage equality.
To be clear, I am not comparing the two in importance, but noting the extreme difference in attention. Furthermore when you put it into context with the other issues queer people face, it comes nowhere close to the top of the priority list. On average, 34 percent of black transgender people live under the poverty line according to the `National Center of Transgender Equality. Almost 50 percent of trans people of color have considered or attempted suicide. The disparity list goes on and on. I haven’t even touched on healthcare, homelessness, or the staggering HIV rates. Gay marriage is great, but it gives little help to the masses and benefits predominantly the white upper middle class queer person.
“The biggest hypocrisy I’ve seen among members within the community is the insensitivity among trans issues, specifically among cis white gay men usually”, says Andrea Arriaga, a gender-fluid queer woman and current IVC student. “There is a lot of discourse regarding the issues with being queer, but I feel it’s important to observe when race and gender intersect.”
When the film Stonewall released this last September, its purpose was to capture the true story about the ‘stonewall riots’. Which was a violent clash between the police and the catalyst for the gay liberation movement. These riots were led primarily by trans women of color, with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera at the forefront. Yet, when the film was released, this crucial event in queer history had become a gay white man’s fable. The film depicted primarily cisgendered white gay men as the acting leaders of the stonewall riots, erasing not only Johnson and Rivera but all of the trans women who fought and symbolized the inception of queer liberation.
This is a prime example about the issues that arise when trans and gender nonconforming people become grouped in with gay people to create the ‘LGBT’ community. Now although there is strength in numbers and it is perfectly fine for gay and trans people to mutually help each other, the two do not always meld in a beneficial way. Even the way we say ‘gay community’ can bring up some issues of over generalization. The community are all to some extent going through struggles with the perceptions of gender and sexuaity, but in the end we are not fighting the same battles.
The rights that each other are fighting for do not even come close to being the same. If we are asking to be put in the same community we must not only highlight the difference between each others struggles, but also to keep in mind that we have always been separate entities. This doesn’t mean we can’t still support each other. It is the job of the allies and of cis-queer folk to not make excuses for our ignorance and to understand matters beyond our own experiences. We need to help them, stand by them, and understand them. Ask questions, get informed, and through that it will strengthen the community. We won a huge fight this past summer, and now we have countless ones to go, but we have each other and that’s a good place to start.